This is an open letter to Christopher D., a 30-year resident of Arizona who recently spent "a large part of my savings building a retirement home in the Rim country."
Christopher D. e-mailed Roundup editor Jerry Thebado recently to ask for a definition of the term "Flatlander" as used by yours truly.
Thebado replied: "A ‘Flatlander' is a commonly-used nickname bestowed upon visitors from the Valley of the Sun. Hope that helps."
Christopher D. countered that he had used a Rim country contractor and broker; had purchased furniture, appliances, flooring and finishes in the Rim country; pays property taxes in Gila County; supports the local volunteer fire department; and even buys Jinx Pyle's books at the chamber of commerce. What, he wondered, must one do to achieve "‘Rim Country Resident' status," and is there "an acceptable nickname" for one who has achieved this lofty pinnacle.
Thebado asked me to take it from here, so here goes.
Dear Christopher D.:
The implication in your e-mails is that the people who live in the Rim country use the term "Flatlander" in a derogatory sense (perhaps in the manner that you folks use the term "Snowbird"), and that we are perhaps somewhat bigoted in our narrow-minded views of our neighbors who reside in the Valley of the Smog. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.
Despite the fact that your people use well over twice as much water each day as we do; despite the fact that there are more than 300 golf courses in Maricopa County; despite the fact that most people who come to the Rim country from the Valley merely camp, throw their trash out the window and go home without spending significant amounts of money; and despite the fact that we are often looked upon by your kind as hicks and honked at unmercifully on those death traps you call freeways, we harbor little or no ill-will toward our Valley brethren. After all, we're all non-native Arizonans, right?
Rather, Christopher D., the term Flatlander refers to the primary geographical feature of the Valley of the Smog -- flat land covered by subdivision upon subdivision upon subdivision as far as the eye can see. If we wanted to be derogatory about you and your people, we would nickname you something like Subdividers, Water Wasters, Environmental Abominations, Valley Trash, or, simply, Pigs.
You also ask "how one achieves Rim Country Resident status." It's really quite simple. This is all about us vs. them, so you need to cross over. Make the decision that you are one of us and no longer identify with them.
You will know you have achieved this transformation when you lose the compulsion to write e-mails that sound like you still sympathize with those people. It also helps if you blacken a front tooth or two, buy some 20-year-old-style clothes at your nearest Goodwill, begin every sentence with, "Tell ya what, buddy ...", and buy yourself a deluxe bug zapper (chrome plated are considered the most prestigious).
And most important, you must get yourself an authentic Payson Concrete & Materials cap, place it in the dirt, walk all over it a few times, place it on your head and never, ever take it off -- not even to scratch your head.
In the meantime, I will be happy to make you an Honorary Rim Country Resident, for the very low fee of $5. (Magic decoder ring not included.)
Finally, Christopher D., you wonder if there is "an acceptable nickname for someone who has achieved ‘Rim Country Resident' status." The answer to that is a big affirmative.
In fact, back on April 14, 1999, in the inaugural issue of The Rim Review, some 296 "Around the Rim Country" columns ago, I addressed that specific issue.
My goal was to come up with an appropriate nickname by which those of us who live in the Rim country could henceforth be known. Among my suggestions were "Rimicians" (as in Phoenicians), "the Rimmish" (as in the Polish), "the Rimch" (as in the French), "Rim Rabble," "Rim Reapers," and Rim Riders (playing on our cowboy heritage).
Nothing seemed to catch on, but a few weeks later local cowboy poet Dee Strickland Johnson suggested "Rimaroos." Henceforth that has been our unofficial nickname.
It's a name, you will have to admit, that is even less flattering than "Flatlanders." So any suggestion that the name we use to describe your people is derogatory must be taken in the context of the even-more-derogatory name we use to describe ourselves.
Besides, you have to admit that being called Flatlanders is a darn sight better than what they call you in San Diego and other parts of California -- Zonies.
But then, our nickname for Californians is not even printable. Thanks for writing, Christopher. Hope that helps.